UPDATES: To all chapters—new material, grammar corrections, rephrasings. Also, chapter titles. Chapter 6&7—Fixed a major plot hole between the fic and the series, and some following dialogue. Chapter 18—totally brand new. If you're here for the update, you're probably here for this.
Also a quick reminder about reading literature: in a good piece of writing, every single word in a story should be important. If you spend some time thinking about phrasing, metaphor, imagery, theme, subtext and counter-text, as the author spends most of his/her life doing, the richness of the story will strike you in an amazing way
I'm in college—can you tell? This is just my advice—I hope you take it, because I put a TON of work into this. :-P
All Martyrdom Aside
I "The Altar of Pride"
Roy Mustang, former Colonel and Flame Alchemist, lay awake in a new bed unable to chase away the nagging fears of a past not far gone. This sleeplessness was not a new thing—ever since his battle with the homunculus Pride he'd been in horrible pain. Most of that was gone now, though sometimes the recent wounds would twinge and leave him gasping for air. He'd even gotten used to the eye patch and loss of depth perception, but over the last few months he'd grown his hair out and combed it down in front of his eyes. He didn't like the questions people asked him, or the way children stared. The memories of the affair were pain enough without rubbing in the salt.
It had been over six months since the revolution. The new government, while still having growing pains, had fully established itself over the country. Its first action had been to strike peace treaties with the surrounding nations, and organization of an international standards and ethics advisory board was under way. It seemed as though they had been doing well enough on its own, but he wondered how true that really was. Official elections had been held twice now, and the organization was still a mess. The public had immediately polarized around a number of predictable themes—the religious ones, the progressive ones, the economic ones—and there had been violent internal clashes more bloody than those during the original revolution.
Some politician who apparently still thought of him as somewhat of a hero had even offered him a job with the committee of internal affairs, but still sour of his dismissal from the military Roy had refused it. The man once so respected for his knowledge of alchemy, so expected to rise to the top in his adherence to leadership, had been reduced to some lowly advice-peddler, meeting power-hungry middlemen in dark restaurants and picking more than a few fights. He refused the ridiculous sums of money he was sometimes offered, intent on making an honest living. Naïve idealisms aside, achieving an honest living was difficult.
And work…what a joke. Not that his colleagues were bad people. It was just that Roy had the reputation of being a tightass and he hated that—even though the unofficial title was as often as not meant with affection. Everyone liked him down at the production plant, so much that even the president of the company had taken a shine to him. He was a full-fledged shift manager now, and the position was so like being a company commander again. But sometimes the lenient, pliable structure of civilian work was more stressful to him than the busy routines of the military.
The military, military, military…it still dominated his life. Some days he thought it would be better just to have been a martyr, to pass up all this loss and give meaning to what he had done. There had been so much hatred in the public after the führer's assassination, and he'd borne the brunt of it. If he'd died, perhaps more people would have respected what he'd done. He knew that they had let him off easy, with a dishonorable discharge in place of the standard life/death sentence that supposedly accompanied the crime of conspiracy to commit, and action of committing the murder of a top military official.
He wondered occasionally if the compromise had been a plea not to testify with the damning evidence he had about the deception at Ishbal, and his knowledge the infiltration of the power structure by the homunculus and the power-hungry humans like that damned Archer. He hadn't given his testimony to anybody involved with the inquiries yet, but the same lobbyists begging for his assistance were organizing a formal inquiry of the military power structure. He had vague intentions to help them—he had nothing to lose since he couldn't be tried again for his crimes.
What occupied him most, though, had nothing to do with his wounds, politics, or even the military: Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye had been the messenger trapped inside his assassination plot, and summarily been accused of aiding and abetting. Although she had been a fine soldier, the new "uncorrupted" military could not afford to overlook her willingness to participate in a conspiracy of the highest order. The sacrifices they had both paid was the price of un-kinking the system, he had told her in way of comfort. She had broken the news of their collective dismissal calmly, but because she had been his first officer, and his closest friend, he had recognized the signs of her devastation. He knew she had made the military her life (and that it has possibly been all she had ever known), and that she had been having trouble rationalizing the loss of her "family" with the cause—his cause—that she had believed so steadfastly in.
He hadn't seen Riza lately, ever since they had been evicted from military housing in Central. He'd heard from Maes Hughes' widow that she had found a position in East City with an accounting firm, as a personal assistant to some number-cruncher who didn't deserve to be named. Gracia, who had also come to Eastern, said that Riza asked after him constantly, always worried that he was working himself too hard, drinking too much, and probably concerned that he'd broken his promises to her as well. Roy often got the impression that the widow Hughes thought their situation ironic.
It was ironic, and everyone involved knew it. But it was, awkward too. After the coup Riza had told him that he sounded bitter all the time, and that he had given up too easily on his dream of rising to power. By the time he was out of the hospital she'd stopped coming to see him, and that her last few visits had been brief and filled with tension. He'd been sarcastic to a degree that even he never achieved, and she'd been uncharacteristically snappy. He knew now that she had been afraid of the sudden change, just as he had been unsure of how to deal with her constant want not to be lonely, to cling to the shreds of the life she'd been so casually waved away from. Perhaps Gracia didn't suspect that they had really needed the space, though by some not-so-coincidence they had still ended up back in Eastern together.
Riza had been right, though, about his bitterness. Roy was much angrier about his dismissal than he would admit. The military had stolen his life, his happiness, and his youth. Though he was still only thirty he felt like an old man, ached like one. He'd lost his best friend in a murder that, instead of being investigated, had caused Maes to receive a promotion that the man wouldn't have wanted. The military so brazenly declaring the matter closed had been the last straw.
He needed a drink more than ever…but at first because of the pain medications and later for less definable reasons, he'd stopped having them altogether. Certain things only became clear through the bottom of a bottle, but he'd stopped wanting to see them in such demoralizing focus. Maybe that was why things had fallen apart—in making himself blind, he'd unintelligently shut out everything's imperfections. He'd been such a hypocrite, after saying that those flaws were what made the world beautiful. He'd meant it back then, but had forgotten when the starkness of reality had begun to beat him down.
His arms felt so empty, without Riza to hold. He wanted to look into those pretty brown eyes and ask if the world was really so terrible and if he'd been a fool to think so, wanted the honesty she offered so readily. He knew it was time to climb up onto the sacrificial altar of his pride and tear out these bad thoughts, but the knowledge of need was a small part of finding the courage to do it. He'd lost it along with so many other things, and it was so terribly hard to find again. Still, he knew that there was someone there who could help him find it again, and asking for it was just as much an issue of tearing out that self-righteousness too. It was the only thing of any value he had left, something God was demanding on his own time.
The night drew on, the fog of late fall rolling slowly over the dim streets, blanketing the world and muffling a silent cry that might have gone up as it had for the last months unnoticed. Roy tossed and turned, kicking at his blankets, thoroughly unable to rest.